Monday, January 8th, 2012
I watched the sun rise above the Halema uma ua caldera. I watched it shine through geological vents, pouring vapor out along the bluffs, dissipating over the rim of the caldera that rises above the desolate crater floor. Within the caldera is the Kilauea crater, home of the passionate goddess of fire, Pele, she-who-shapes-the-sacred-land, as her name is described in ancient Hawaiian chants. I am sitting perched at the site where Pele’s brother, kamohoali’i, god of the shark, is meant to live. Pele gave him this cliff, Palikapu okamohoali’i, for helping Pele navigate to the island of Hawaii from Tahiti. It is said that she gifted him with this side of the caldera because no smoke or fumes ever blow in this direction. It was a beautiful sight, and is embedded in my mind.
I picture myself as the shark god, looking down below into the crater where my sister Pele lives. I imagine the rain pouring down Mauna Loa, seeping into the ground, down towards the lava, towards Pele where her fiery passion vaporizes and steams through the cracked vents, bellowing out over my head, over the rim of the giant caldera, and fainting with the rising sun. I see myself as part of this story, the story of Hawaii. I imagine myself as part of the land and wonder how I can feel so at home when I am thousands of miles away from all those I’ve ever known and ever loved. I did not want to return there. I wanted to be a part of this place, here, so active and alive with myth.
I return down the slope from the rim of the caldera to our campsite. Everyone is just getting up, slowly emerging from their tents, standing, stretching – taking in the new day. There is a slight smell of sulfur dioxide in the air. Pele’s wavering temper lingers in my mind. I think about what the volcanologists we visited the other day who told us about the volcano’s continuously erupting activity – how they don’t know exactly what causes the inflating and deflating of the magma through the chambers. There are only some possible theories conjured about the swelling and increased pressure in the magma chamber, but no one knows for sure. As the sulfur smell floods my nostrils, I smile with a wild yet comforting thought that it is of course Pele who is causing all of the eruptions.
(Read the whole essay here)